The ice fields of Antarctica might seem like an odd place to hunt for rocks. But the Antarctic is the best place on Earth to hunt for rocks from beyond Earth. Meteorite hunters have picked up thousands of space rocks there. And they’re getting ready to hunt for more. Several expeditions are scheduled to hit the ice this month.
Meteorites fall all across Earth. But most of them splash into the oceans, or they hit regions of land where they’re hard to pick out — you can’t tell them from all the Earth rocks.
In Antarctica, they fall all across the continent and are frozen in the ice. As the ice flows toward the ocean, it sometimes runs into barriers, such as mountain ranges. That forces some of the meteorites toward the surface, where the ice can be blown away by the wind. So any rocks sitting atop the ice probably are meteorites.
The leading meteorite-hunting team is from the United States. Known as ANSMET, it’s recovered more than 22,000 meteorites during its 40 years of operation — more than a third of all the known meteorites on Earth.
This year, the group will explore an area known as the Miller Range. Scientists have already found thousands of meteorites there. But some of the ice hasn’t been explored yet, so it could offer up many more.
A British group is heading south as well. Last year, it tested some gear that’s used to find landmines as a way to find iron meteorites below the surface — rocks from beyond Earth hidden by the ice.
Script by Damond Benningfield